Chester to Chadds Ford

The Chester Creek Branch

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Large trestle over Chester Creek and PA 452. This section was abandoned in 1971. The fence was put up on the trestle to discourage trespassing. Photo by Joe Sharretts.

This abandoned railway was built in the late 1860s by the Pennsylvania Railroad. It connected with the main PRR line SW of Philadelphia at Chester, PA, and traveled through Ashton and Lenni, and then linked up with what today is SEPTA's West Chester route. The line diverged a short distance later and traveled along US 1 through Chester Heights, Markham, Ward, and into Chadds Ford. Total route length was 15.2 miles. In 1971, a hurricane washed out portions of both lines, and it was decided that the cost repair was not worth it, and the lines were abandoned. Approximately 90% of the entire line remains intact.

Today, the Octoraro Railway operates the former Reading line from Wilmington, DE, through Chadds Ford Junction (intersecting with this line) and then to Coatesville, PA, on the Philadelphia to Harrisburg main.

See also the western end of this entire right-of-way, The Octoraro Banch, also abandoned.

Thanks to Joe Sharretts for contributing information about this route.

I live near the junction of the PRR main and the Chester Creek. In my opinion they should restore the line and operate it as the Chester Creek Scenic Railroad and extend the West Chester Branch to Downingtown.

Kris
Chester, PA
11/27/2008

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I have an old stretch of rail along the Chester Creek near Brookhaven, PA but there is private property blocking the right of way where the line used to run.

Kris
Chester, PA
12/27/2008

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My sister lives in aston and everytime i go there i always wondered where that big trestle went to and who owned the line. Now i know. Of course they should open the line as a tourist railroad. When i hit the lottery i'm going to hamburg new york to rescue that pennsylvania decapod I1sa # 4483. I'm going to take it to steam town to be restored to running condition and i' m going to need a place to run it. Wouldn't that be great! People from all around the counrty would come to see a real pennsy I1 under it's own steam! joe mignogna magnolia nj

joe mignogna
magnolia, NJ
4/26/2009

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The grade crossing at Ring Road, pictured above, is historically significant as it is the site where the painter N.C. Wyeth was killed in 1945 when struck by a train. The event greatly affected his son Andrew Wyeth and influenced the melancholy nature of his paintings for rest of his life.

Brent Thompson
New London, PA
11/15/2009

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I agree totally with either preserving this historic asset to Delaware County as it sits or making it a Steam Scenic Railway similar to Strasberg's attraction.

Currently, there is a move to rip up the rails (making somebody's pockets a LOT richer) and putting a bike/walking trail which, time will show, will be abandoned not long after it is opened.

Let's try to head up a committee to stop this destruction of our rich past.

Steve
Brookhaven, PA
2/23/2010

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recently visited the Newlen grist mill, and saw the abandoned track. wonder if there were any insulators used or found on the right of way?

tom w.
somers point, NJ
10/1/2010

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There are some great spots along the branch where track is still intact. The bad news is...most of the property along the right-of-way is now owned by business or residenial property. I know a Penn Central enginer who once made a delivery along the ROW, but this was back in 1969, and well, by then, many of the customers had left, leaving the line with very meager freight traffic. He did tell me, that in 1970, Penn Central ran a caboose hop along the line to Wawa, and then it continued along the Octararo Branch to Kennet Square. Plus, before I forget, he always told me, that back in Pennsylvania Railroad times, the line had a constant struggle with keeping business as times changed with the ever growing battle with trucks. Penn Central surprisingly, wanted to abandon the line in 1969, but other things got in the way. I traveled the line once in 1954, with him, back when PRR employed him and he was right. We took a Baldwin DS-4-10 and had two boxcars (NYC and CB&Q, respectively), and an N5 caboose. We were working along the line, and nearly everywhere we went, we saw trucks. He said to me, 'Kris, I don't think the old Chester Creek has got long left.' and I told him, 'You're crazy! This line will survive until the end of times.' and then Agnes came and well, I ate my words. Plus, I have another story from a ride along. It was June 1968, and we have transitioned from PRR to PC. Using a former New York Central RS3, he was sent to fetch cars along the line, and well, none of the cars were loaded and come to find out, the business men never had the cars loaded and instead had trucks come and ordered the guys to load the trucks instead. He was so mad, that when we got to Philadelphia, he dropped the train off and took a bus to Suburban Station (not directly, of course) and he told the manager of freight operations and well, the owners were forced to load both freight cars and trucks, until Penn Central made up its mind.

Jack
Los Angeles, CA
11/7/2010

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HAA I drive home from work everyday along the line from Rolandsville to Rising Sun everyday ! Often wonder if they thought of making this a sorta commuter rail line from Say Sylmar to the NS port. line to Baltimore ???? mabye it would ease the commuter traffic on I 95??? humm just a thought??

erik Fletcher
Rising Sun , MD
12/29/2010

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A Railpace article from April 1984 described this line. Evidently the entire route was taken out of service after hurricane Agnes in 1971, and service wasn't restored to the middle segment (Sylmar to Chadds Ford Jct.) until 1977.

Mike Palmer
L A County, CA
1/4/2011

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Unfortunately, the line is owned by trail-loving SEPTA. The Friends of the Chester Creek Branch managed to convince the townships along the line that a trail will help commuters get to the Wawa Station on the West Chester line---whose reopening is now on hold. See link here for the "benefits" and why DelCo desperately needs another trail as the expense of a viable transportation link. http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2010/02/21/news/doc4b80ae0df3eae627384471.txt

As one expert put it, "A relatively high-grade piece of infrastructure has been diverted (temporarily, one would hope) to a relatively low-grade purpose. It's like taking over an expressway to use for someone's driveway."

Robert
Phoenixville, PA
5/26/2011

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in the second photo you got the town name wrong its aston,PA. Also today in the second photo the tracks been removed to make a trail through the wood. Also the trestle in the first photo has another over the same river but the river curved and the tracks did the same.

christopher palmer
aston, PA
4/9/2012

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in brookhaven a torn apart(you can ell most of it was from hurricane agnes flooding) bridge/trestle is still intact. it left trails and once made a grade over where bridgewater RD and west brookhaven RD connect (about 6-10 meters before) and aston to the right side of the bridgewater grade their either making a trail or redoing the line

christopher palmer
aston, PA
4/28/2012

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there are trails of where the track was and now are blocked off i think so no one trespasses

christopher palmer
aston, PA
7/16/2012

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I lived on Robin Hood Lane from 1961 to 1975 and remember hearing the train whistle from the old Chester Creek Railroad. We would run thru the woods and put pennies on the track to get them flattened. We spent alot of time walking along the old tracks and fishing in the creek. After the flood in 1972 the tracks were washed out in many places and they never repaired it. It would be nice if they could restore it and have a scenic railway thru the area.

Woody McKay
Aston, PA
9/29/2012

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i saw the pictures and wondered how much of the rail and equipment is still left.can someone tell me what is left and what condition it is in?please let me know.thank you.

george oakley
reading, PA
12/2/2012

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Does the Right of Way for the railroad path still exist? Following the posted map it seems like homes or other structures may have been built along or close to the abandoned line. With that being said, it will probably be tough getting a scenic railroad approved through these areas, especially the Aston/Brookhaven portion. Of course, a bike/foot path will also be met with opposition for the same reasons, but a bike path would be less costly and easier to maintain than a railroad. The bike paths are nice. I've ridden the Schuylkill River Trail and the Perkiomen Trail up in Montgomery and Berks Counties. They are nice and scenic rides and it's great to be able to ride for miles without worrying about vehicle traffic. From what I understand, the Pennell Rd Crossing is the biggest hurdle to converting this line into a bike path.

Rich
Media, PA
2/18/2013

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I hope they convert it to a Rail-to-Trail, so that they at least keep up the flat terrain. It's comparatively easy to convert a Rail-to-Trail back to a railway (as they're doing in some spots in Connecticut) than it is to rebuild one after the ground has washed out. At least then it would be maintained/reinforced. Besides, it makes it easier to embrace our rich past.

Joel
Wilmington, DE
3/13/2013

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thanks for the info.as for any opposition to conversion of this abandoned rail line to a bike path or a trail,it is usually expected.we will see what happens down the road.please keep me informed of any future plans.thanks.

george oakley
reading, PA
3/14/2013

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I remember the electric transmission line paralleling the track in photo 5 which you could see in some places traveling on US1. Back in 1963 the track looked pretty well ballasted - a well maintained secondary line - from what I could see while traveling to/from Philadelphia. In contrast, the Octoraro line south of Chadds Ford had more of a country short line look. There used to be communication lines with green glass insulators along this line as well. Without a rail map back then, the double crossarms with insulators made me think it was the same B&O line that paralelled US40 farther south of that location. Now I can see how all these lines fit together. Never did see a train on this or the Octoraro line back then...guess Saturday wasn't a good day to catch a branch train movement.

David Earp
Mechanicsville, MD
9/7/2013

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i talked to someone at septa and they told me that the octararo line is still being used.as for this line,i have not heard nothing concerning what if anything is being done to either rehab the line or turn it into a possible trail.if anybody knows anything,please let me know.keep in touch.

george oakley
reading, PA
9/7/2013

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You're tallking at least two separate branches here, at least in the end from what my Penn Central Eastern Region ETT from 1971 (timetable #6) says -- the Chester Creek Branch which ran from Chester, PA (A wye and small yard at Lamokin station/interlocking on the PB&W/PRR) to Wawa, PA where the West Chester Branch is, paralleling the WC branch between Lenni and Wawa. The Octoraro Branch ran from Wawa to Colora passing through Chadd's Ford Junction, at least as of 7/18/1971. This all went out in 1972 when Agnes flooded everything out. I notice that you do have a page for the Octoraro Branch -- but only showing the very lower end which was abandoned -- from what I can gather, this was the portion beyond Colora. The section which you have under "Chester Creek Branch" shows the portion that remained until the end of service. The two branches, by the way, from what I hear, were a big mushroom hauler because it went through Kennett Square and this was a huge part of its traffic which died up to trucks I would guess.

The Wawa and Concordville did run on the line on the Octoraro Branch section along Pole Cat Road.

There was the remains of what appeared to be a turntable pit at the Wawa junction uncovered when they started clearing things out to build a new passenger station to send passenger trains past Media- Elwyn to Wawa on the WC branch.

Both of these lines were in the PRR/PC's Chesapeake Division in the end which may mean that they were part of the PW&W originally. They appear as the Octoraro Secondary and Chester Creek Secondary in the 1971 ETT but not in the next 1974 edition, indicating that Agnes took them out.

Chris Ruhl
Pennsylvania
10/12/2013

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There is an old bottle dump (although I'm sure this isn't the only one) along the Bridgewater Road section. It use to be easier to get into, and there was a lot of 40s-70s trash bottles in there

Lou
Wilmington, DE
6/21/2015

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Alright, I got some to say.

The northern part of this railway's washed away. I mean it. The damage is catastrophic, line-ending. Headed south from Lenni (the northern terminus), I walked it last year. The tracks are gone, and there is absolutely NO way this is EVER being turned back into a railway. I'm talking the trackbed isn't just degraded, I mean to say it's entirely washed into the river. You'd have to fill the old drainage bit (doubling your work) and buy into land owned by private property owners just to get the railway there, and it'd *Still* border a creek that floods very often due to soil liquefaction from development upstream (impermeable surfaces= bad. This is why rain barrels are important to preventing washout and why they are being pushed by many states' conservancies.)

Anyways, point is, a lot of the land the railway traveled upon (especially in the northern part) is literally gone- entire huge, multi-hundred yard swaths of it, just eroded away and into the creek, completely- and there's just nowhere I can see to build a new section of railway.

Then there's the tunnels. There isn't a single tunnel left. They're all filled in. To the south, the railway is more complete- the bridges, the pathways, etc., are suitable for a trail, but again, we'd never see a line, we'd see a dead-end branch, and the few businesses still along the branch have such limited shipping that they'd never be able to pay for that; and the highway they're along zips pretty well and connects to the interstate without issue, whereas the NorthEast Corridor is frequently packed to the brim with trains (and nobody wants to lay additional track for increased freight, for whatever reason), and as I've already stated, reconstructing a Northern exit for this branch is nearly impossible, unless someone sank hundreds of millions into a line that would see modest service at best. So in short, it's just not happening.

However, I believe they are reactivating Lenni station (which is on the Media/Elwyn/Wawa line) See also: http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/02/07/septa-to-extend-mediaelwyn-line-3-miles-to-wawa/ Adding bike paths to the new station will service people who want to get to work (at those mentioned businesses along the old line) Speaking as someone who personally commutes on a train and uses a bike in conjunction with that- and is not alone in doing this.) Upland (southern terminus for this line) also has a SEPTA station headed to Philly/Wilmington/Newark. So be realistic about this: This line's tragically dead, but we can explore what's left of it by hiking or biking it, which isn't so bad, really. The guy who headed the effort to preserve the right-of-way died of health issues, and someone posted a "good" on the news article announcing his death, because he helped turn this line into a trail. Not classy. We're so much better than this.

Now, the Octoraro line (that for some reason is in this article about the Chester Creek Branch,) heads West from Wawa station, a little north of Lenni station. That line has some washout issues as well, though nowhere near as severe. It does, however, cross U.S. Rt. 202 at-grade, and is missing some bridges (removed decades ago). This is also highly unlikely to re-open. There are no remaining businesses that it would serve along the line. It is literally just constructing a thru-way, though it might be nice to reactivate it and have that direct-line access into Philly, a far more economical solution would be to just drive into Wawa, which is further down U.S. Rt. 1 that parallels the track. There's a shortline operating on the remainder of the Wilmington and Northern tracks (East Penn Railways) that marks the end of the abandonment, so it's also not like they have deep pockets.

There are many more relevant and important railways to preserve or reactivate, ones that will see more return on investment. Ones such as the Delaware & Lackawanna Cutoff in Pennsylvania's section, which will get Scranton's passenger service into NYC going again, or expanding that same railway line I linked's commuter service the rest of the way up into West Chester, or reactivating passenger to Harrisburg or Atglen- point is, there are better projects to sink less money into where we'd see more done about it. I get it- it's frustrating. But these lines will never see a train on them again, at least not for a long, long time, and this (if nothing else) preserves the corridor for that to happen. Gotta keep that long-view in mind.

Anyways, that's the sum of my input.

Joel
Arden, PA
6/21/2015

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The true Chester Creek line is dead as a door-nail in that it would require hundreds of millions to repair and has little to no utility. There is little business to be had and Class 1's (and their deep pockets) are getting out of local freight. Short lines will abandon an already fair condition line with little business without a second thought, so this has no chance. The line does not tap into any real new markets for passenger rail, does not make sense for service to Philadelphia, and is much too curvy. It would only serve SEPTA for very rare non-revenue moves. Dead.

The upper end of the Octoraro Branch however, incorrectly folded into this page as part of the Chester Creek branch, would serve the Route 1 corridor well for passenger service. Chadds Ford makes for a logical first phase for such new service, and SEPTA still owns the line to that point. The next logical phases would be to Kennett Square then to Oxford. Beyond that, there are few population draws and the ROW is in worse shape.

Mike
Philadelphia, PA
2/3/2016

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Mike,when was the determination about this line being dead made?Was it the determination of SEPTA because i for one agree with you it would be too costly to start up this abandoned rail line for passenger service.Freight service could be feasible if there are customers.Of course there are people out there who think that this line like a lot of others will be reopened.

george oakley
reading, PA
8/31/2016

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